USA Freedom Act is just the beginning of the fight for privacy

The US Senate voted for the passing of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, and President Obama signed it into law later the same day. So, how will this impact the surveillance programs operated by the NSA and other US agencies?

For one, the program that saw the NSA slurping up phone metadata of Americans will have to end in the following six months. The slurping and storage of records will be now performed by the telephone companies, and the NSA and other federal agencies will have access only to the information regarding certain individuals or groups, and only if they convince a federal judge to allow it.

The law will also require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to declassify some of its decisions, and will allow, in certain cases, for a public advocate to argue for privacy rights of the suspects (before, the FISC heard arguments only from the agencies).

Despite this being the first time in over thirty years that the US Congress has moved to restrict and gain more oversight on NSA’s surveillance powers, many privacy and digital rights advocates are not satisfied with the passing of the USA Freedom Act.

“It’s no secret that we wanted more. In the wake of the damning evidence of surveillance abuses disclosed by Edward Snowden, Congress had an opportunity to champion comprehensive surveillance reform and undertake a thorough investigation, like it did with the Church Committee. Congress could have tried to completely end mass surveillance and taken numerous other steps to rein in the NSA and FBI,” commented EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Mark Jaycox.

“Even so, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating because, however small, this bill marks a day that some said could never happen—a day when the NSA saw its surveillance power reduced by Congress. And we’re hoping that this could be a turning point in the fight to rein in the NSA.”

“The passage of the USA Freedom Act is a milestone. This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check. It’s a testament to the significance of the Snowden disclosures and also to the hard work of many principled legislators on both sides of the aisle,” says Jameel Jaffer, American Civil liberties Union deputy legal director.

“Still, no one should mistake this bill for comprehensive reform. The bill leaves many of the government’s most intrusive and overbroad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements.”

Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal is worried that this new bill will “could be interpreted by the Executive branch as authorizing activities the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has found to be unlawful.”

Everybody agrees that the fight for Americans’ privacy is not over, as is not the fight for the privacy of all the people around the globe.

The EFF points out other problematic legislation: Executive Order 12333, which is used to allow digital surveillance of people worldwide; and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, which is used to collect the content of phone calls, emails and other Internet content, both of non-Americans and American citizens.

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